‘Incitement to religious hatred’ offence will cause religious division, not harmony
A Pakistani Christian who has been convicted in Australia of ‘vilifying’ Muslims after criticising Islam, today told MPs to oppose plans for an ‘incitement to religious hatred’ offence.
Daniel Scot told a meeting of MPs that the Government’s plans will be an assault on free speech and encourage religious groups to litigate against each other. Daniel Scot, an ordained church minister, was taken to court in Australia by a Muslim group after he criticised the teachings of fundamentalist Islam. His case has caused international concern for free speech.
The House of Commons will tonight vote on the proposed ‘incitement to religious hatred’ offence.
Speaking about the proposal Daniel Scot said today: “Since 2001, we have had similar laws in the state of Victoria in Australia. These laws were used against me by a well-organised Muslim group after I criticised Islam in a church seminar for Christians. Although my criticisms of Islam were calm, reasonable and based on my considerable knowledge and experience – and although these comments were made in the setting of a Christian religious meeting – I was found guilty under these laws. If such laws can catch someone like me, then similar laws could catch anyone for criticism of religion.”
“I also make it clear in my seminars that not all Muslims know what Islam teaches. Most Muslims do not know in detail the full teaching of Islam and are peaceful friendly people. But I believe it is important that people are aware of the implications of the full teaching of fundamentalist Islam. In my seminars I express criticism of fundamentalist Islamic teaching on jihad, women and other matters. These criticisms of fundamentalist Islam are not unique to me. They are mainstream international concerns.”
“On 9 March 2002 I was giving my usual seminar to a group of Christians in a church. Unknown to me, three Muslim converts were in the audience. They had been encouraged to attend by a Muslim who is a member of the Islamic Council of Victoria seconded to work for the Equal Opportunities Commission of Victoria. The three Muslim converts made notes of the seminar which formed the basis of a complaint that my seminar had vilified their faith.”
“I ended up in court. The case lasted from October 2003 until June 2004 and has cost us over 200,000 Australian dollars. The cost would have been higher but much of the legal work was done for free. I was found guilty of “religious vilification”. But I believe I am innocent of such a thing. All I did was to state my well-founded beliefs about the dangers of fundamentalist Islam and Sharia Law. The case has caused me a great deal of alarm and distress.”
“I believe there are two things about my case which people should worry about. First, people should worry that fair comment and criticism about religion can so easily lead to a legal action under such a law. Second, people should worry that a well-organised minority religious group who knows how the legal system works can bring litigation to silence any criticism of its beliefs. I have no doubt that if the “religious vilification” law did not exist in Victoria, those three Muslim converts would never have been sent to my seminar.”
“There may be some people who do not agree with my criticisms of Islam (although there are many who do agree). But that is not the point here. The point is, I should be free to argue my views – and I should be particularly free to do so in a religious meeting. What if you want to criticise Islam? Or Christianity, or Judaism, or Hinduism for that matter? I believe you should be free to do so. I believe you should be free to do so without fear of being hauled before the courts.”
Note for editors
The Christian Institute is a non-denominational registed charity that promotes the Christian faith throughout the UK. It has been established for nearly 15 years and is supported by over 14,000 churches and individuals throughout the UK.